Report: Native Americans in AZ have highest obesity rate in US

Report: Native Americans in AZ have highest obesity rate in US

Native Americans in Arizona have the highest obesity rate in the country, according to a recent report, "State of Obesity 2015." 

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The findings also show that obesity is a growing problem in Arizona.

Doctors at the University of Arizona are working to fight the problem by establishing a center for obesity prevention.

However, health officials said it'll take a lot of work, especially in remote Native American communities.

Joe Begay has led quite a life.

"This is called Tin Cup with Kevin Costner. It's about golf," he said while showing a photo album filled with pictures of Hollywood actors who he has done scenes with.

Begay has played Native Americans in movies and shows filmed in Tucson for decades.

"My name was Dancing Hawk. I went to an Indian school. They taught me how to be an Indian," he recalled of one of his roles.

Retired for nearly 20 years, he now sells handmade jewelry at the Mission San Xavier del Bac.

A member of the Navajo tribe, Begay has family and friends in the reservations south of Tucson.

Many of them, he said, are dealing with health issues caused by weight.

"A long time ago they used to have traditional foods. Now the whole world changed around them, now we have all these McDonald's. You name it," he said.

According to the obesity report, four out of five Native American adults in Arizona are obese.

Health officials said limited access to fresh food and healthcare contribute to this problem.

"You know you often choose foods that make you feel good, and often times that's unhealthy foods. Certainly, all of America is doing that when you look at the income generation of fast foods," said Nicolette Teufel-Shone, Ph.D.

She's a professor and the section chair for the Family and Child Health Section at the University of Arizona.

The report also said Arizona's waistline is expanding. 64 percent of population is overweight. Nearly 29 percent is obese.

That number has tripled since 1990.

Begay, who is diabetic, said he hopes the younger generation of Native Americans find their way back to good health.

"I hope they don't get something like that, that's all I can say," he said.

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